Infant Reflexes: What Are They and Why Do We Have Them?

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They're little, they're fragile, but they're not totally helpless! Brand-new babies have some inborn reflexes that help them survive in their first few days and weeks. Most of these now-strange reflexes are nothing more than relics of our ancient past, but some help newborns get by even today.

Sucking and Rooting

This is the most important one of all! Your newborn baby can latch onto your breast and suck right from birth! Two key reflexes allow this to happen: first, the rooting reflex assures that when something gently strokes your baby's cheek, they open their mouth and turn toward it; then, the sucking reflex makes sure that when something enters your baby's mouth, they get right to work sucking on it. Together, these two reflexes make nursing possible.

Moro Reflex

You may feel sorry for baby when she appears suddenly startled, but it's only the remnant of a reflex designed to help her protect herself. You may notice your baby fling open her arms and legs and then tuck up into a ball again – as a response to a sudden noise, the sensation of falling, or often for no reason at all.

Baby Steps

Long before he can walk, your newborn will look like he's trying! If you hold him upright with this feet on a flat surface in a "standing" pose, expect him to take little steps! Of course, he doesn't have the strength or balance to really walk yet, but he's on his way.

Babinski's Reflex

Try gently stroking the sole of your baby's foot and her toes will flare out as she rolls her foot inward. This unusual reflex is not fully understood, but some scientists believe it's a holdover from our primate ancestors who lived in trees and learned to grasp branches to avoid falling.

Tonic Reflex

This bizarre but amusing reflex turns your little guy or gal into a tiny Zorro. You may catch her lying on her back, one arm extended, the other bent at the elbow, like a little swordfighter. It's not clear why babies adopt this fencing stance, but it may be a way to practice reaching for objects.


Aw! This may be the sweetest infant motion of all. When you press your finger into your baby's palm, expect him to grab your finger. This reflex is likely another remnant of our arboreal past, but it's also sure to melt your heart.

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